cat·​a·​comb ˈka-tə-ˌkōm How to pronounce catacomb (audio)
: a subterranean cemetery of galleries with recesses for tombs
usually used in plural
: something resembling a catacomb: such as
: an underground passageway or group of passageways
: a complex set of interrelated things
the endless catacombs of formal educationKingman Brewster †1988

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About forty Christian catacombs have been found near the roads that once led into Rome. After the decline of the Roman empire these cemeteries were forgotten, not to be rediscovered until 1578. Catacomb has come to refer to different kinds of underground chambers and passageways. The catacombs of Paris are abandoned stone quarries that were not used for burials until 1787. The catacombs built by a monastery in Palermo, Sicily, for its deceased members later began accepting bodies from outside the monastery; today you may wander through looking at hundreds of mummified corpses propped against the catacomb walls, dressed in tattered clothes that were once fashionable.

Examples of catacomb in a Sentence

explored the catacombs looking for evidence about burial customs of that ancient society
Recent Examples on the Web Christianity thrived in the underground catacombs of the Roman Empire when Emperor Nero had its adherents torn apart by wild beasts. Adrian Zenz, Foreign Affairs, 20 June 2018 Scheidel analyzed the work of intrepid researchers who combed the catacombs to collect about 4,000 such inscriptions. Andrew Van Dam, Washington Post, 16 Feb. 2024 The other two masks were found inside the catacomb along with terra-cotta figurines of Isis-Aphrodite — the goddess of childbirth and rebirth — and her son Harpocrates, the Greek take on Horus, the Egyptian god of silence who could protect himself from sickness and death. Franz Lidz, New York Times, 12 Feb. 2024 In Rome though, as land became more scarce, citizens began burying bodies in underground catacombs. Brendan Rascius, Miami Herald, 8 Feb. 2024 Fortunato's punishment is being chained to a wall in the catacombs and sealed away behind a wall of bricks, which happens to be the fate imposed on Rufus Griswold (Michael Trucco) by young Roderick (Zach Gilford) and Madeline (Willa Fitzgerald). Nick Romano,, 12 Oct. 2023 In desperation, the villagers seek the help of Father Nicolai who helps conduct a special ceremony deep within ancient catacombs with the hope of summoning an angel to combat the malevolent force. Anna Tingley, Variety, 18 Sep. 2023 Henry Jekyll has fled from London to Paris’ catacombs to avoid a murder investigation and continue his dark experiments. Abbey White, The Hollywood Reporter, 6 Sep. 2023 With what the family guesses might be close to a million books shelved down meandering hallways and dim catacombs, title snooping requires either a guide or a detailed map. Karen Sandstrom, cleveland, 1 Sep. 2023 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'catacomb.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English catacumb, Middle French catacombe, probably from Old Italian catacomba, from Late Latin catacumbae, plural

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of catacomb was in the 15th century

Dictionary Entries Near catacomb

Cite this Entry

“Catacomb.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 5 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


cat·​a·​comb ˈkat-ə-ˌkōm How to pronounce catacomb (audio)
: an underground place of burial
usually used in plural

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